Germany’s Jews are disagreeing about whether the country’s largest neo-Nazi party should be banned.
The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany says the organization’s official position has for many years been consistent in calling for authorities to initiate legal proceedings to outlaw the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), which is said to follow in the ideological footsteps of Hitler’s Nazi party. Yet the organization’s secretary-general, Stephan J. Kramer, caused a stir last week when he said that he was decidedly against such a step.
“One cannot prohibit [neo-Nazi] ideas, you can only fight them,” Kramer told a local newspaper. Any efforts to ban the party were doomed to failure, he said.
In light of a series of ideologically motivated murders committed by German neo-Nazis that were exposed two years ago, the lower house of the German parliament recently initiated a process to ban the 6,000-member NPD on the grounds that the party allegedly promotes unconstitutional and even illegal ideas, such as glorifying the Third Reich.
In response to Kramer’s statements, which were widely reported in national media outlets, the Jewish Central Council’s president and vice presidents issued a statement Thursday clarifying that the organization’s longstanding call for a ban remains its official position on the matter.
“We still strongly advocate for the Bundestag and the federal government to rapidly join the Bundesrat’s initiative,” the statement read, referring to the two houses of German parliament. “We would view this as a sign of a fighting democracy that confronts its enemies.” It is incomprehensible why public funds should finance neo-Nazi propaganda and hatred, the statement continued. “In our view, this party should have been banned long ago.”
In accordance with German law, the state funds the NPD’s activities to the tune of about €1.3 million.
Efforts to outlaw the NPD, which was founded in 1964 and has never managed to enter the Bundestag — although several members are represented in regional parliaments — are almost as old as the party itself. In 2001, the government tried to determine whether the NPD could be labeled unconstitutional and thus be banned, but the initiative came to nothing.
In 2011, the revealation that a neo-Nazi terror group calling itself the National Socialist Underground, which is said to be connected to the NPD, had killed several members of minorities and one German police officer sparked fresh attempts to outlaw the party.
The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to decide whether to support the effort. Several senior politicians in her cabinet are skeptical, fearing that either the German Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights could annul a ban of the party, which, despite being ideologically close to Nazism, operates within the parameters of the law.
“The Central Council’s position [to support an NPD ban] is unequivocal,” Kramer told German reporters last week. “But as a citizen of this country I allow myself to have a different personal opinion.”
However, in an older article posted on the Central Council’s website, Kramer seems to have supported the idea of a ban (it is unclear when the article was posted). While he wrote that “neo-Nazi structures cannot be completely destroyed by bans,” he went on to demand that “there has to be unconditional condemnation not only of militant neo-Nazism but also of rightist sentiments, discrimination and exclusion of minorities.”
“If the NPD is not only ideologically akin to National Socialism but also openly seeks to abolish our constitutional order, then it is the duty of the rule-of-law state to initiate a banning procedure, for reasons of our history as well as because of our responsibility for victims of far-right violence,” Kramer wrote. “Those who hesitate to make use of this measure, justifying their hesitation with the poor chances of success not only send out the wrong message to society but also damage people’s trust in our democracy.”
Kramer, who converted to Judaism as an adult, is no stranger to controversy. During last year’s debate over a possible ban on circumcision in Germany, he raised eyebrows when he said in an interview that most arguments cited in favor of the Jewish rite didn’t convince him. While he fiercely opposed any attempt to criminalize circumcisions, he also suggested the Jewish community “re-think” ancient traditions. “I asked many rabbis: we abolished so much of what’s written in the Torah, why not that as well?” he said.
Last year, Kramer was attacked in Berlin on his way home after Yom Kippur services while carrying a prayer book, and asserted that the incident was “definitely xenophobic.” After the state prosecutor decided not to classify the attack as a case of anti-Semitism, Kramer said he would check with his attorneys whether it was possible to appeal that ruling.